The Republic of Korea, commonly referred to as South Korea, is a
democratic country in East Asia. The country occupies the southern part
of the Korean Peninsula. The only neighboring country is North Korea to
the north; South Korea is bordered by the Yellow Sea (called "West Sea"
in South Korea) to the west, the East China Sea to the south, and the
East Sea to the east. With around 52 million inhabitants, South Korea is
one of the 30 most populous countries in the world. Apart from
Bangladesh, no country of this size is so densely populated. About half
of South Korea's population lives in the metropolitan area of the
capital Seoul, called "Sudogwon", one of the largest metropolitan areas
in the world. More than two million people also live in the cities of
Busan, Incheon and Daegu.
From 1910 until the end of World War II, Korea was a Japanese colony. After Japan's defeat, the Soviet Union and the United States divided Korea into two zones of occupation. In 1948, two new states with opposing political systems were subsequently founded; South Korea became a parliamentary democracy under US influence. Until 1987, it was still suffering from several military governments, but since the 1990s, according to various measurements of democracy, South Korea has been one of the most democratic countries in Asia, comparable to Germany and Austria. Since the Korean War (1950-1953), one of the largest proxy wars of the Cold War, the relationship between the two Korean states has been heavily strained. Totalitarian North Korea, which is largely isolated internationally, has regularly threatened to use nuclear weapons against South Korea in recent years, drawing much attention from the world public. Due to the general threat from North Korea, South Korea has one of the largest armed forces in the world in terms of number of soldiers.
The country was completely destroyed by the Korean War and became one of the poorest in the world. From 1962, however, there was a rapid economic upswing. The “Miracle on the Han River” turned South Korea from a poor agricultural country into a highly modern, rich industrial state (“tiger state”) within just a few decades. South Korean industry dominates the world market, especially in the production of ships and electronic products (such as semiconductors, microchips, flat screens and computers). South Korea is a member of several international economic organizations, e.g. B. the G20, the OECD, the APEC and ASEAN+3.
Due to the Korean Wave, South Korea has a great cultural importance and influence worldwide.
In South Korea, there is one city of special status (Seoul) and six
cities of direct subordination, the rest of the country is divided into
Seoraksan National Park, east coast beaches and ski resorts.
The province surrounding Seoul, which is home to a sprawling metropolis
Charming seaside villages and important Buddhist temples and monasteries.
The largest province, rich in historical and cultural attractions.
Volcanic island and favorite honeymoon destination. It is popular for its beautiful scenery, wild flowers, and horseback riding.
Bucolic little islands, famous for delicious seafood, and fishing.
Known for its excellent Korean cuisine.
Plains and rice fields.
A province with many mountains and national parks.
Seoul: The capital of South Korea. Between the concrete castles of
the metropolis you will find, among other things, the royal palace and
the impressive gates: First and foremost the south gate Namdaemun and
also the less frequented east gate Dongdaemun.
Busan: Busan is the second largest city in South Korea and has one of the largest ports in the world. Busan offers the special flair of a port city with several beaches and Korea's largest fish market.
Gyeongju: The capital of the historical Silla Empire has a lot to offer: royal tombs, the world-famous Bulguksa Temple and a historical museum. In addition, a wonderful mountain world for hiking.
Suwon: Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Completed in 1796, the fort has 5.52km of walls and 41 facilities.
Ulsan: A city of millions in the southwest of the Korean peninsula.
Incheon: Incheon is the third largest city in South Korea. It is located in the greater Seoul area and is also connected to the local transport network.
Jeonju with numerous traditional houses.
Jeju: A beautiful island with a very pleasant climate. However, when
the Koreans travel, you should refrain from visiting, because not only
is it difficult to get a room, but all the sights are overcrowded.
Seoraksan: picturesque mountains with a national park in north-eastern South Korea, with rugged rocks. Paved paths lead through the Seorak mountains, past Buddhist temples and through beautiful mountain forests with magnolias and maples (especially beautiful when the leaves are changing color). The area is also known for its cuisine rich in wild vegetables.
Jirisan: National Park in the Jiri Mountains
Dadohae Haesang Marine National Park
Demilitarized Zone (DMZ): The border with North Korea, a relic of the Cold War.
German citizens can enter Germany without a visa for up to 90 days. The import of fruit and meat products is prohibited.
Flights from Europe arrive at Seoul's Incheon International Airport (ICN). The airport is modern and easy to navigate. Duty free shopping on the return flight is interesting only for cigarettes, everything else is cheaper in Seoul. The old international Gimpo Airport (GMP) is used for domestic flights and partly for flights to neighboring Asia. The flight time from Frankfurt am Main to Incheon is around 10.5 hours. International flights, mostly from Asia, also operate to Busan and Jeju.
train, bus, car
Traveling overland is not possible, since South Korea only has a land border with North Korea and the neighbor is hermetically sealed off. You can take your car with you on a ship.
There are ferry connections to ten ports in China, several in Japan and one in Russia. This allows travelers to East Asia to use South Korea as a transit country between neighboring countries. You can also board the Trans-Siberian Railway in Russia. However, the ferry to Vladivostok was “temporarily” suspended in the fall of 2019.
Between 2011 and 2013, the country-wide house numbering system was changed. As usual in Japan and China, a numbering system was used within blocks. Nowadays street names and house numbers are used, but not per house as usual. This has not yet changed on all maps or guidebooks. Korean street names usually end in -daero (대로, 大路, "Boulevard") for major streets with 8 or more lanes, -ro (로, 路) for 2-7 lanes, -gil (길, 街) otherwise. Even numbers are usually on the right side of the road/junction, odd numbers are on the left.
There are three types of street numbering:
Serial numbering is e.g. in Seoul. You number each -gil that branches off from a -daero or -ro. For example, the first -gil branching off the Daehak-ro is called "Daehak-ro 1-gil" (대학로1길), the fourth would then be "Daehak-ro 4-gil" (대학로4길) and as an even number on the right side.
An indicator that this system is being used is that beon is missing after the number.
It is widespread in e.g. B. in Gyeonggi Province to increase the number count by 2 every 20 meters. So standing at the intersection of Nongol-ro 10beon-gil (논골로10번길) indicates that you are about 100 meters from the start of Nongol-ro (논골로). All streets so named have -beon-gil after their number.
-ro or -gil may be numbered differently according to local practice
If a -gil branches off from a -gil, a "letter" of the Korean alphabet is inserted immediately after the number, i.e. ga (가), na (나), da (다), ra (라), ma (마) etc.
Here a fictitious number is increased by 2 every 20 meters from the beginning of the street. "Sejong-ro 2-gil 3" (세종로2길 3) would then be 30 meters from the beginning of the "Sejong-ro 2-gil." The same applies here: odd numbers on the left, even numbers on the right.
If the house number has a hyphen, e.g. B. "14-1," the building is in such a small alley that it makes no sense to name it yourself.
Further subdivisions are common for complexes (several high-rise buildings) together and for apartment numbers. For example, "102동 304호" (pronounced: 102-dong 304-ho) would be apartment number 304 in building 102. H. ground floor = 1st
South Korea has a good rail network, which is particularly suitable for longer distances. However, you should buy your tickets well in advance, especially on weekends. The KTX bullet train (comparable to the French TGV) runs between Seoul and Busan, covering the distance in around 2 hours 40 minutes. The price for a trip is about 55,000 KRW, cheaper are group tickets (four people) at a seat with a table.
There are intercity buses from every city. The seats are reserved when purchasing the ticket. The more expensive price of the express bus rarely makes up for a much faster connection than the "luxury" of air conditioning and wide seats, which is highly recommended.
In the street
You can drive in Korea with a valid international driver's license and your EU driver's license. Rental cars are available from the usual international car rental companies. The traffic situation, especially in the metropolitan areas, does not exactly invite you to travel by car. In the country or z. B. on Jeju but it is more comfortable to drive.
On motorways (largely subject to tolls): 100 km/h
Country roads: 80-90km/h (signposted), single lane 60km/h
There are ferry services to Jeju from Busan, Incheon, Mokpo and Wando. Depending on the destination and the price range, the crossing takes between three and eleven hours. From Incheon you can take a ferry to some islands on the west coast, others from Daecheon and Gunsan. The small islands off the south coast can be reached from Busan, Mokpo, Wando and Yeosu. The remote island of Ulleung off the east coast is connected to the mainland by ferries to Pohang and Donghae.
Carrying e-cigarettes on planes is banned in Korea.
Several airlines are available for domestic flights. The two big ones are Korean Air and Asiana. Korean Air is a member of SkyTeam, Asiana is a member of Star Alliance.
Air Busan is Asiana's low-cost carrier. The seats are very narrow even for normally built Europeans. The only service is water and juice. To pass the time, the stewardess plays "rock, paper, scissors" with the passengers, otherwise you only experience this in tour buses. Low-cost airline Jeju Air offers slightly wider seats, also with little legroom and economy service.
Other low-cost airlines include Eastar Jet and Jin Air. Unfortunately, they don't offer an English version on their websites, so if you don't speak Korean, you'll need help from hotel staff.
With English you get along more badly than right. Even in major
hotels and airports in Seoul and the tourist areas, there are few staff
who can speak or understand more than a few standard phrases. It's a
good idea to learn a few words of Korean to break the ice for the first
time. The grammar is similar to Japanese, and there are many Chinese
loanwords that are just pronounced differently.
Korean writing is relatively easy to learn. A small dictionary or a language guide is useful. If you want to take a taxi to a place, ask the hotel staff to write down the place name in Korean. Latin alphabet names often confuse taxi drivers. Firstly because there was a reform in the spelling in 2000, which now makes it difficult for foreigners to read words correctly and there are often additional spellings as one thinks fit. A lot of imagination is required when recognizing the same place names.
The won (KRW) has a ratio of about 1320:1 to the euro (July 2019),
but the fluctuation range is between 2000:1 (2009) and 1200:1 (2007).
The prices are slightly below the Central European price level.
Electronics items are of interest. You should stay away from cell phones. It may happen that the system cannot be used in Europe. Various branded cosmetics are cheaper in South Korea than in Europe.
Don't like spicy dishes? Then Korea is the ideal place for a diet.
Don't like seafood either? Then you will die of agonizing starvation in
It's not that bad, of course, but a spiciness that makes even a Hungarian's eyes water and a wide range of all kinds of sea creatures are characteristic of Korean cuisine. It is seasoned with paprika, chili, sesame oil and garlic (South Korea has the highest per capita consumption). Other grains and legumes are often added to the rice. There are usually several small bowls with different vegetables (banchan), such as the infamous gimchi (kimchi, 김치). Gimchi is a pickled (fermented) vegetable based on Chinese cabbage, radish and spices, which comes in a variety of variations and is often sour and hot. In terms of production, it is related to our sauerkraut: the ingredients "mature" in a large stone pot and after a few days achieve their unmistakable taste. Even many foreigners who have lived in Korea for a long time often have difficulties with the national dish. Almost every family puts their own vegetables in large clay pots that stand on the terrace, balcony or roof.
Fish, squid, sea cucumbers, porcupine worms and mussels are offered raw, boiled, grilled and dried. Hwae (Korean sashimi) can be eaten right by the sea or at the large fish markets, which, unlike the Japanese version, is served with spicy dips.
The Korean barbecue (BBQ) is ideal for meat lovers: At Bulgogi, marinated pork, beef and sometimes lamb are prepared on the table with a gas grill.
Also known are gimbab (Korean maki), mandu (dumplings) and naengmyeon (cold noodles). Eating out in Korea is relatively cheap and restaurants often specialize in just a few dishes, which they then prepare accordingly well and freshly.
Fermented fish (hongeohoe) or stew made from butterfly larvae (bondaegi), for example, take a lot of getting used to.
The national drink of Korea is soju. Formerly made from rice, today it mostly consists of industrial alcohol. It tastes a bit like thin vodka and has around 20% alcohol. Soju is also drunk from shot glasses, but mostly in umpteen amounts compared to schnapps in Europe. The unfiltered rice wines, such as Makkoli and Dongdongju, are often sold in traditional restaurants or small stalls in the mountains.
Gimbap Cheongook (김밥천국). Gimbap Cheongook (Gimbap Heaven) is a food chain (franchise). Mostly older Korean ladies work here and cook Korean dishes like gimbap or larger meals. The concept is going very well, which is why there are also imitators who have virtually the same dishes, just called them differently. Highly recommended for travelers on a budget as you will find a wide range of freshly prepared food here. The menus are almost always only in Korean, but there are often pictures of the dishes, so that you can get to your meal without knowing Korean. Price: Meals from 1,000 won.
You can quickly make contact and start a conversation with Koreans over a glass. Almost all Koreans are then extremely open to new things and very receptive to everything they don't know yet. Social drinking is part of the evening, with larger amounts of alcohol being drunk.
In addition to the usual hotels, youth hostels, guesthouses and
campsites, there are some special accommodation options in South Korea.
Starting with the bath houses, as described above. In Seoul, Jeonju, and
a few other places, there are hanoks, which are wooden houses that once
belonged to nobles. The nights are very traditional in small rooms on
heated floors. The same applies to mimbaks, the simplest guesthouses in
ski resorts, on islands and in the countryside. Korean-style rooms, i.e.
without a bed, are called ondol and can also be found in higher quality
hotels. Usually there is a step in the entrance area where you take off
your shoes before entering.
Motels primarily serve as an intimate meeting place for couples for a few hours. For those who don't mind, this can be a cheap alternative to the normal hotels. Mostly outdated facilities and a bit run down, Yeogwan offers cheap accommodation. The family-run variant is called Yeoinsuk. Here it can happen that as a foreigner you don't get a room.
Some temples offer overnight accommodation. The spiritual aspect plays an important role here. Info:
Temple Stay Information Center, 56, Ujeongguk-ro (At Jogyesa in Seoul, Subway 3: Anguk, Exit 6). Phone: +82-2-2031-2000. Provides paid accommodation in temples of the Jogye School nationwide, also for foreigners and those interested in meditation. Price: Daily prices depending on the program, approximate ₩ 30-70,000.
Foreigners often work as English teachers in South Korea, but according to current regulations only native speakers are allowed to do so. For those under the age of 30, including those from Germany, there is the option of applying for a Work&Travel visa. Looking for a job is certainly not as easy as in New Zealand or Australia, since it has been possible to get such a visa there for a long time and the local economy has adjusted to it and there are fewer language barriers.
When it comes to crime, South Korea is a safe travel destination, which is why you should not neglect everyday caution.
In principle, tap water is drinkable, but it is usually so heavily
chlorinated that it is undrinkable. It's fine for brushing your teeth.
10 to 20% of travelers get diarrhea anyway.
Hepatitis A and B are a risk in South Korea. While hepatitis B - like HIV - is only transmitted via bodily fluids, one can also become infected with hepatitis A via water or food. Vaccination is therefore highly recommended. Travelers staying in Korea and/or outside of Seoul for more than a week are recommended to be vaccinated against typhoid.
There is an increased risk of Japanese encephalitis in the southwest of the country. However, this disease, transmitted by mosquitoes, rarely occurs in travelers because they usually only stay in the risk areas for a short time. There is a vaccination. You can get infected with leptospirosis in running water. Lyme disease is transmitted by ticks. Another parasitic disease is giardiasis.
Further recommendations can be found at Tropeninstitut.de.
South Korea is located in the temperate climate zone, there are four
different seasons. Exceptions to this are some subtropical valleys on
the south coast of Jeju and some high-altitude regions over 1,700
The mild and sunny spring usually begins between late March and early April. The winds then often carry fine, yellow desert dust from the Gobi desert to South Korea. In summer, southerly winds bring hot, humid air. The summer monsoon season begins towards the end of June/beginning of July. Much of the annual precipitation falls on South Korea during this period. Partly heavy rain alternates with clear days. This is followed by a very hot midsummer, which is mainly characterized by the high humidity of 80-95%. The maximum daily temperature often exceeds 30°C.
Autumn sets in in mid-September when the winds blow from the northwest again. The dry air of central Asia means there is plenty of sun as the temperature slowly begins to drop. Now is one of the best times to travel, when the forests are beginning to change color. Winter in South Korea is very cold and dry. The winds from Siberia rarely bring snow. From January onwards, a special climatic constellation ensures a peculiar temperature pattern in which three cold days alternate with four somewhat milder ones.
Formal politeness is very important in Korea, but often depends on
social status and age. For example, it is still a matter of course to
give older people a seat on the subway. There are different verb forms
and word suffixes in the Korean language to express many gradations. Of
course, foreigners are not expected to be perfectly versed in it, but
courtesy gestures are always appreciated. For example, one should give
or receive a gift with both hands, always refill a guest's glass, and
show respect especially to old people.
Hotel employees are also extremely friendly and helpful, even if there are usually problems with the English language. It looks different in everyday use on the street. Don't be surprised if there's a bump, because Koreans never seem to approach anyone when they want to pass, just as they don't pay attention to whether someone wants to pass. You create your own space and that is not due to any language barriers or xenophobia, but is everyday life in the land of the dawn. The background should be Confucianism. A clear distinction is made between one's own circle of acquaintances and the unknown outsider. It gets really annoying when queues are pushed ahead, which is often the case. Therefore, always stand close to the person in front so that no one gets in the way.
Koreans like to use the opportunity to try out their English. Germans are often asked about reunification. Tense issues for many Koreans are North Korea and Communism in general, as well as former colonial power Japan.
South Korea is an exemplary clean country, which may come as a surprise because public garbage cans are scarce. So if you want to get rid of your drink bottle, you should be patient and keep your eyes open. In the subway stations you still have the best chance of finding what you are looking for.
The bath houses, which can be found behind the sauna signs, are an
important part of Korean life. Besides the normal bathhouses, there are
also hot springs (oncheon). In addition to physical and mental
cleansing, they have a communicative meaning. The preference for bathing
in hot water was inherited from the former Japanese masters. Therefore,
the procedure is largely identical to that in the Japanese onsen.
Women and men bathe separately. First you put all your clothes in a locker. Then, as God made one, you go to the bathing area and wash yourself thoroughly in the shower. Soap and shampoo are provided by the bathhouse, usually toothpaste and toothbrushes as well. Only then do you lie down in the hot water. Many baths also offer cold pools, waterfalls, sauna and, for an extra charge, massages (no erotic massages!). In some pools there are also additives in the water.
A special feature are the sleeping accommodations in the bathhouses. Since the baths are open 24 hours a day and you can stay as long as you like after paying the entrance fee once, they offer a very cheap alternative to staying overnight. Sleep in bathrobes in dormitories on the floor with wooden blocks for pillows.
The only problem: many bathhouses don't let foreigners in for fear they won't know how to behave.
In city post offices you have to take a number. A distinction must be made as to whether you want postal or banking services (these 은행). Closing time is at 5 p.m. (bank counter 4 p.m.).
telephone and internet
There are phone cards from KRW 100,000 for the now rare public phone booths.
Since 3G (UMTS) or 4G (LTE) is available everywhere in South Korea, today's smartphones do not pose a problem there. Older GSM mobile phones that do not support 3G (UMTS) or 4G (LTE) work apart from a few places where GSM is offered, not in South Korea.
There are providers of SIM cards in the Korean mobile network especially for tourists. This is the cheapest way to be reachable and make phone calls in Korea, as there are no rental fees for a rental cell phone or expensive roaming costs. As a virtual network operator (MVNO) in the kt telecom network, the Korean provider evergreen mobile offers a mobile phone card for telephony and internet use. In addition to the use of 3G+ Internet, the card also includes unlimited use of the very well developed olleh Wifi. An LTE variant is also available. A Korean cell phone number is also included.
Solutions for owners of older mobile phones
A. Buy a cheap cell phone for travel
Buy a cheap cell phone at home (or buy a new one for home, too) without a SIM lock so that you can use your own SIM card. Today all mobile phones support at least 3G.
B. Korean rental cell phones
You can rent a mobile phone for your own SIM card from KT or SK in the arrivals hall (maybe from others too). The mobile phone rental fee is moderate, according to the German mobile phone provider. Apparently there are often problems with Vodafone SIM cards.
Loan cell phone with Korean number. It costs around 5000 won per day and is also available from the other phone companies in the arrivals hall. Calls within the country and to Germany are therefore significantly cheaper than with the SIM card option.
A credit card is required for both variants. Some better hotels provide a cell phone in the room as a free service.
Are listed in the relevant Seoul section.
The official German state name is Republic of Korea; Colloquially,
however, one usually speaks of South Korea. In Korean, the country is
officially called Daehan Minguk (대한민국, 大韓民國; Eng. "Great Korean
Republic, Republic of Greater Korea"). In general, it is called in South
Korea in the form of Hanguk (한국, 韓國, "Korea State") or officially Daehan
(대한, 大韓). In addition, in contrast to Bukhan (북한, 北韓 North Korea) for
North Korea, there is also Namhan (남한, 南韓 for South Korea), but it is
not common. Since "Korea" is not referred to as Han (한, 韓) but as Chosŏn
(조선, 朝鮮) in North Korea, "South Korea" there is called Nam-Chosŏn (남조선,
南朝鮮, "South Chosŏn").
The word Han (한, 韓) goes back to the historical empire Samhan (삼한, 三韓; "Three Han"), which consisted of the kingdoms of Mahan (마한, 馬韓), Jinhan (진한, 辰韓) and Byeonhan (변한 , 弁韓) and existed between the first and fourth centuries AD. This name was taken up again in the name of the Daehan Jeguk Empire (Greater Korea Empire) founded in 1897.
The name in western languages has its origins in Cauly, as Marco Polo called the peninsula during his travels in the late 13th century. This is probably based on the Chinese pronunciation of the Korean kingdom of Goryeo (Chinese 高麗 / 高丽, Pinyin Gāolì). The two spellings Corea and Korea appear in European records well into the 20th century. In the English and German-speaking world, the spelling with K finally prevailed, in Romance languages the spelling with C.
South Korea's area is 100,284 square kilometers. Of this, only 290
square kilometers are water areas, as there are no larger natural lakes.
South Korea includes the southern part of the Korean Peninsula and offshore islands. Near the west coast and in the southeast lies flat land, but almost everywhere interspersed with hills, which makes up at most a third of the national territory but is home to the great majority of the inhabitants. Much of the rest of the country is mountainous; except for a narrow strip on the east coast and small valley bottoms, there are no lowlands. Both the mountains and the hills of the plains are mostly forested; although they seldom reach great heights, they often have a steep relief.
About 70% of South Korea is mountainous. The highest mountain is the Hallasan volcano at 1950 meters on the island of Jeju, on the South Korean mainland the highest mountains are Jirisan in the south at 1915 meters and Seoraksan in the northeast at 1708 meters. South Korea is crossed by five major mountain ranges, the largest being the Taebaek Mountains. It begins in southeastern North Korea and then stretches almost the entire east coast of South Korea. The second largest mountain range, called Sobaek, branches off from Taebaek in a south-westerly direction; it runs through the center of the country. Smaller are the Gwangju, Charyeong and Noryang mountains. The main watershed running from North Korea across the Seoraksan to the Jirisan is called Baekdu-daegan (백두대간; 白頭大幹).
Four major rivers flow through South Korea. The longest of them is called Nakdonggang and has a length of 525 kilometers. It arises from the confluence of two headwaters that originate in the Taebaek Mountains near the city of Taebaek and from there, unlike most rivers in the country, flows southwards and empties into the East Sea near Busan. The second longest river at 497.5 kilometers is the Hangang, whose northern arm has its source in North Korea. Its southern arm also rises from Mount Taebaek. Both Han rivers unite about 35 kilometers before Seoul, before they flow through the middle of the capital and shortly afterwards flow into the Yellow Sea as a border river to North Korea. Other important rivers are the Geumgang (401 km) and the Seomjingang (212 km).
South Korea borders the sea on three sides:
In the east on the East Sea, also known internationally as the "Sea of Japan" (see also dispute over the name of the Sea of Japan),
in the south on the Koreastrasse,
to the west by the Yellow Sea.
The coastline is 2413 kilometers long in total.
The coasts in the west and south have many bays and peninsulas as Ria, which are preceded by around 4400 medium-sized and smaller islands. Of these, fewer than 500 are inhabited. On the west coast is the world's second largest mudflat called Saemangeum. There are only a few very small islands and rocks in front of the east coast, which has few bays and is steep in many places.
By far the largest island is called Jejudo. It is about 150 kilometers south of the southwest coast of the mainland, has an area of 1845.6 square kilometers and forms Jeju Province with a few small islands.
About two thirds of the country is forested. The original mixed
forests with oak, maple, beech, elm, poplar, spruce and aspen have given
way to secondary forest in many places, as a great deal of the forest
has fallen victim to the need for firewood and slash-and-burn
agriculture. At higher altitudes, coniferous forest with spruces and
larches adjoins. The flora of South Korea is considerably richer in
species than that of Central Europe. The easily visible higher plants
alone are represented with around 3400 species and subspecies in 880
genera. Korea's flora ranges from alpine mountain pines and
rhododendrons above the tree line in the northern mountains to
subtropical bamboo, laurel and camellias on the warm south coast and on
Large predators such as tigers, leopards, and black bears were common throughout the Korean Peninsula; However, due to deforestation and poaching, they have practically disappeared from South Korea. While the tiger and leopard have gone extinct, a small remnant of black bears survived in the north in the Demilitarized Zone and in the south in Jirisan National Park, where the government began a conservation and reintroduction project in the 1990s. Other predators in the forest include the lynx, the Bengal cat, the raccoon dog, the fire weasel, the otter and, in the northeast of the country, the Mongolian wolf. Larger mammals include the long-tailed goral, the Siberian musk deer, various species of deer and wild boar. There are seals on the coasts. Notable bird species include the mandarin duck, white-bellied black woodpecker, red-crowned crane and collared scops owl.
About 3.9% of South Korea's national territory is under nature protection.
Unlike neighboring Japan, South Korea is hardly affected by natural
disasters. In South Korea, for example, there are only an average of 20
earthquakes per year. Of these, an average of 9.2 earthquakes per year
are above 3.0 on the Richter scale (corresponds to the "perception
threshold" of an earthquake). In the long-term trend, however, the
number of earthquakes has increased again since 1992. A total of 50
earthquakes occurred in 2006, 42 in 2007 and 46 in 2008. In Japan, on
the other hand, around 1,200 earthquakes with intensities greater than
3.0 on the Richter scale are counted each year. In addition, there are
no active volcanoes in South Korea.
Typhoons can occur especially in the period between the end of July and the beginning of September, but they usually lose their power before they reach South Korea. From March to May, the air is sometimes filled with fine yellow desert sand (Korean 황사 hwangsa), which blows over from China or Mongolia along with pollutants and covers the country like a fog bell.
South Korea is located in the temperate climate zone, in which four
different seasons are distinguished. Exceptions to this are some
subtropical valleys on the south coast of Jejudo and some high-altitude
regions over 1700 meters.
Spring usually begins between late March and early April and is mild and fairly sunny. The winds then often carry fine yellow desert dust from the Gobi desert to South Korea. In summer, southerly winds bring hot, humid air from the Philippines. The summer monsoon season, called Jangma (장마) in South Korea, usually begins in late June or early July and lasts into September. Much of the annual precipitation falls during this time. Rain alternates with clear days. This is followed by a very hot midsummer, which is difficult to bear, especially due to the high humidity. The maximum daily temperature then often exceeds 30 °C, accompanied by a humidity of 80 to 95%.
Autumn sets in in mid-September when the winds blow from the northwest again. The dry continental air ensures plenty of sun while the temperature slowly begins to drop. Winter in South Korea is very cold and dry. The winds from Siberia rarely bring snow. From January onwards, a special climatic constellation ensures a peculiar temperature pattern in which three cold days alternate with four somewhat milder ones.
South Korea's rapid economic growth led to numerous environmental side effects. Emissions from industry and traffic create high levels of air pollution and lead to the formation of acid rain. Per capita, 9.5 tons of carbon dioxide are emitted annually in South Korea (estimate for 2002). South Korea had the ninth highest CO2 emissions in 2015. Despite its relatively small population, South Korea is the world's second largest consumer of CFCs. Another major problem is water pollution from residential and industrial runoff, and rapidly growing garbage dumps, caused in part by the wasteful packaging of consumer goods. The South Korean Ministry of Environment is trying to solve the problem of cross-border environmental pollution together with the responsible authorities in Japan and the People's Republic of China.
In 2021, 81 percent of South Korea's population lived in cities. The
largest city with more than 10 million inhabitants is the capital Seoul
in the northwest. Together with the surrounding cities, it forms the
metropolitan region called Sudogwon, with around 25 million inhabitants
one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world. South Korea's second
largest city, Busan (3.5 million inhabitants), is located in the extreme
south-east of the peninsula; it owns one of the busiest ports in the
world. This is followed by the port city of Incheon (2.9 million
inhabitants) at the gates of Seoul on the west coast and Daegu in the
southeastern interior with 2,493,264 inhabitants. The fifth largest city
is the centrally located Daejeon with 1.5 million inhabitants, sixth
largest Gwangju with 1.5 million inhabitants in the southwest. Unlike
the aforementioned cities, Suwon (population 1.2 million), Goyang
(population 1.0 million) and Seongnam (population 0.98 million) are not
politically equivalent to a province, but belong to Gyeonggi-do Province
. Like Incheon, they are so close to Seoul that they have since been
connected to Seoul's subway network. The eighth largest city is Ulsan on
the southern part of the east coast with 1.2 million inhabitants.
After the end of the Korean War, a rural exodus from the rural areas to the cities, and especially to Seoul, began in South Korea. Since 1990, however, the suburbs of Seoul have increasingly been the target for settlement, where entire satellite cities have been built with large-scale construction programs.
South Korea had 51.8 million inhabitants in 2020. Annual population
growth was +0.1%.
South Koreans have a very high life expectancy, totaling 82.8 years in 2020, 79.7 years for men and 86.1 years for women. South Korea has one of the highest cancer survival rates in the world. Life expectancy in South Korea has increased enormously in recent decades: According to UN figures, it was 35.6 years in 1950. According to forecasts, South Korea will be the country with the highest life expectancy in the world by 2032 (men: 84 years; women: 92 years). This contributes to the rapid aging of the population. While in 2000 only 7.2% of the population was 65 years or older, in 2015 the proportion of this age group had already reached 13.1%. The median age in 2020 was 41.6 years. The fertility rate is one of the lowest in the world, standing at 0.84 children per woman in 2020. This means that the population has shrunk for the first time since the republic was founded.
South Korea had a population density of about 513 people per square kilometer in 2015. In 2021, 81 percent of South Korea's residents lived in cities.
The majority of the population of South Korea are Koreans.
The entire population of the Korean Peninsula, i.e. that of today's states of North and South Korea together, is largely homogeneous in ethnic terms. Since the predecessor state of Korea was almost always a political entity from the time it was unified by the Silla Empire in 668 until it was partitioned after World War II in 1945, a largely uniform culture developed with only minor regional differences.
During the post-war era, the Chinese faced discrimination as the government sought to keep the population as ethnically homogeneous as possible. In the 1960s, there were laws regulating the size of foreigners' property, especially the Chinese. Obtaining South Korean citizenship was complicated. The Chinese in South Korea were considered citizens of the Republic of China, which also funded the Chinese-language schools in South Korea. Since South Korea, along with Japan, was the best survivor of the 1997 Asian crisis, large numbers of workers from other parts of Asia (Thailand, Philippines and India) and even Africa have immigrated to South Korea to find work in the big factories. Many of these are in the country illegally. The number of registered foreigners in South Korea rose from around 469,000 in 2004 to 1,376,162 million in 2015. Due to the post-war relationship with the USA, many Americans have now also settled, especially in the Itaewon district of Seoul the cityscape. The "UN Village" is also located here, along with many embassies and foreign companies.
The number of Mainland Chinese residing in South Korea at the end of November 2010 was 0.61 million, including 0.4 million Koreans with Chinese nationality of the PR. These Chinese thus represent the largest foreign population group in South Korea, followed by Americans (128 thousand), Vietnamese (120 thousand), Filipinos (47 thousand), Japanese (41 thousand), Thais (40 thousand), Mongolians (30 thousand) and Indonesians (29 thousand). In 2017, 2.3% of the population was born abroad. The proportion of foreigners is thus still at a low level, but is steadily increasing.
On the other hand, many ethnic Koreans reside abroad, particularly in the United States and the People's Republic of China, each home to around two million Koreans. About 660,000 live in Japan, about half a million live in Russia and the other former Soviet republics.
There is a small flow of refugees from North Korea to South Korea via third countries. Escaping the dictatorial regime of North Korea is generally associated with great difficulties. In order to get the refugees used to the way of life in a democracy, there is a re-education camp in Hanawon, where as of January 2014 around 160 North Koreans are waiting for eventual “naturalization”. By the end of 2015, around 29,000 people from North Korea had relocated to South Korea.
Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the constitution. Accordingly,
there is no official state religion.
The religious landscape in South Korea is very diverse. As of 2015, 56% of South Koreans were non-religious, 28% Christian (20% of the population was Evangelical), 16% Buddhist and members of the Korean shaman religion.
The religious upswing since the 1950s, in parallel to strong economic growth, occupies the sociologists of religion. Detlef Pollack writes:
"After World War II, the devaluation of the Confucian state religion and the discrediting of Buddhism by Japanese colonial rule paved the way for the rise of Christianity, which thus became a marker of modernity and was also identified by many with modern Korean nationalism."
– Detlef Pollack: Religion in the modern age
Shamanism is the original belief system of Korea. In many ways similar to the shamanic customs of neighboring countries, it is based on a belief in spirits to be appeased and protection sought.
From about 600 AD, Confucianism gained increasing importance in Korea. Less a real religion than a social order, this philosophy shapes South Korean society significantly. However, since it has only been officially recognized as a religion since 1995, hardly any South Koreans state it as their religion. This is probably the main reason for the comparatively high level of religion in South Korea.
Buddhism reached North and South Korea from India via China and became the state religion in AD 372 in Goguryeo, AD 384 in Baekje and AD 528 in Silla. It had its heyday when Silla had conquered almost the entire Korean Peninsula. During the Joseon Dynasty, it was considered the root of corruption and was suppressed. The monks mostly withdrew to the mountains, and Buddhism declined in influence but never completely disappeared. There are also some Buddhist schools of Korean origin in the USA and in Europe.
Christianity in Korea spread from 1784 through Korean intellectuals who had come into contact with the religion on educational trips to China. At that time, large Chinese cities were contact points for Western cultures and European missionaries founded schools and churches. The slowly and mostly secretly multiplying Christians in Korea were suppressed by the Confucian monarchy until religious freedom was granted in 1882. Since the 1960s, Christianity has experienced an unprecedented rise with the economic boom and the associated spread of education. After the Philippines and East Timor, South Korea is the East Asian country with the highest proportion of professing Christians in the population. Of the Christian denominations, the Evangelical Churches, in particular the Presbyterian Churches among other Reformed Churches, represent by far the largest proportion. In addition to the strong Anglo-American theological influence, this can be attributed to the very high effectiveness and fame of German-speaking theologians such as Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Emil Brunner be declared in the country.
The influence of Christian fundamentalism and the link between church and politics are increasingly shaping the Reformed Church and society in South Korea. For example, in 2012 a working group on creationism research was established within the state-run Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, one of the country's leading research institutes. However, plans to remove passages on the theory of evolution from school textbooks that contradict creationism were scrapped after public protests from scientists.
New religious movements
Several new religious movements also emerged in Korea, including Daesoon Jinrihoe and Victory Altar. Christian syncretic movements such as Jundokwan (olive tree) or the Unification Church, known as the “Moon Movement” after its founder Sun Myung Moon, also have their origins in Korea.
The Korean language is the official and written language in South
Korea. There are no recognized minority languages. The Korean language
is counted by some linguists among the Altai languages, viewed by others
as an isolated language. It may be more closely related to Japanese
Ryūkyū. About 78 million people speak Korean worldwide. The differences
between the regional dialects are marginal, with the exception of the
dialect spoken in Jejudo. For many terms, the language has both a purely
Korean word and a so-called Sino-Korean word borrowed from Chinese. In
addition, many English words are adopted into the Korean language.
English is taught as the first foreign language from primary school. A second foreign language is added in the upper levels. For a long time, the traditional languages since the post-war period were German, French or Japanese, and in rare cases Spanish. The importance of European languages has declined since the 1990s, while the importance of Chinese and Japanese has increased and the emphasis on teaching English has increased.
The Korean script Hangeul is a 24-letter alphabet. Of these, 10 are vowels and 14 are consonants. These letters are combined into blocks of syllables, which can give the impression that it is similar in complexity to the Chinese script. In fact, the font is very logically structured. The Chinese script, called Hanja in North and South Korea, was the official script on the Korean Peninsula until the end of Japanese colonial rule in 1945, despite the introduction of the Hangeul script by Great King Sejong in the 15th century. Chinese characters have a much lower meaning in today's everyday use than in Japan. In South Korean publications, words in Hangeul are sometimes supplemented with their parentheses in Hanja to clarify the meaning, especially in the case of homonyms. However, publications that only use Hanja are the exception. At South Korean schools, students learn around 1,800 Hanja characters, and at universities, other characters from the disciplines chosen are added. In general, however, the use of hanja is declining. This is also related to the general movement to increase the role of the Korean language in both written and oral practice. Linguistics and the media are also making efforts to cultivate the Korean language. The National Institute for the Korean Language is officially responsible for language maintenance.
South Korea has one of the best healthcare systems in the world. For
2021 South Korea was ranked 3rd in Statista's Health Care Index and
ranked #1 in the CEOWORLD magazine Health Care Index. The country's
healthcare spending was 8.2% of gross domestic product in 2019. In 2019,
South Korea had 24.8 doctors per 10,000 inhabitants. Under-5 mortality
was 2.9 per 1000 live births in 2021.
Height is a key health indicator. According to a study by Bentham et al. (2016) people in South Korea experienced the greatest average body growth in the past century (1896 to 1996). This correlates with the increase in life expectancy. In 2021, the average life expectancy was 83.6 years (86.6 years for women, 80.6 for men), one of the highest in the world and the highest for women. Between 2012 and 2021, the average height in South Korea for people in their 30s is 174.65 cm for males and 161.77 cm for females.
According to OEZD statistics, the suicide rate in South Korea has been one of the highest among the OEZD countries since 2003. The rate in 2015 was 25.8 suicides per 100,000 people. Suicide is considered a major problem in South Korea and has garnered a lot of attention due to a number of celebrity suicides. Up until the 1990s, South Korea had a low suicide rate compared to other developed countries. In the 1990s and especially at the end of the 1990s, this rose sharply. The Asian crisis from 1997 is seen as one reason for this. After 1998, the number of suicides declined, but suddenly started to rise again from 2002. At least since 2003, South Korea has consistently had a higher suicide rate than Germany. Until 2011, the number of suicides in South Korea increased almost steadily. Since then, the suicide rate has fallen again slightly to around 36 suicides per day (Germany around 25, 2020).
For history before World War II, see History of Korea.
After the Second World War ended in 1945 with Japan's capitulation,
the Chōsen Province, which corresponded to the territory of Korea that
had been incorporated into the Japanese Empire and colonized since 1910,
was divided into two zones of occupation by the victorious powers along
the 38th parallel. This corresponded to the Allied Conference of Yalta
in February 1945. (Earlier in 1943, at the Cairo Conference, the Allies
had decided that Korea should receive its state independence in due
course.) The southern part of Chōsen was occupied by US troops, the
northern part Part came under control of the Red Army. The Allies
oversaw the disarmament and withdrawal of the Japanese soldiers from
The administration of the country was originally supposed to be taken over by the USA and the Soviet Union until an all-Korean government was formed. However, this was never achieved. Instead, the Soviet Union in the north and the USA in the south established occupation zones with military governments. When the United Nations General Assembly decided in 1947, at the request of the USA, to hold elections in both parts of the country, the Soviet Union rejected this. Therefore, the May 10, 1948 election took place only in the South. Active and passive women's suffrage was introduced on July 17, 1948.
On August 15, 1948, the Republic of Korea was founded. The US officially handed power to the elected government, but kept its troops in the country. The north responded to the unilateral founding of the state in the south by founding the Democratic People's Republic of Korea on September 9, 1948 in Pyongyang. Both states saw themselves as the only legitimate government of the entire Korean peninsula and announced that they wanted to fight for it.
In April 1948, while still under the rule of the United States Military Government (USAMGIK), the South Joseon Workers' Party began the Jeju Uprising. After South Korea gained independence, the suppression of the rebellion escalated. The uprising was finally crushed in May 1949 with many atrocities and massacres by South Korean soldiers and anti-communist militias. 14,000 to 30,000 people were killed - 86% of them by government troops.
By mid-1949, Soviet troops had withdrawn from North Korea in accordance with the treaty. With the help of the Soviet Union and China, North Korea was able to develop its industry faster than South Korea. This was due to the fact that heavy industry was mainly located in the north, which was richer in raw materials, by the Japanese during their colonial period. In the agriculturally more fertile south, on the other hand, they promoted and expanded agriculture. As a result, and thanks to the help of the Soviet Union, North Korea was able to recover more quickly economically and build a powerful army.
On June 25, 1950, the North Korean People's Army crossed the border
at the 38th parallel, beginning the Korean War. The American President
Harry S. Truman had already sent some troops to South Korea, which were
by no means strong enough to compensate for the material superiority of
the North Korean troops over the South Korean army. The capital Seoul
fell after just three days, and about a month later the North Koreans
already controlled the entire Korean Peninsula except for a few islands
and a narrow strip around Busan in the southeast. Only here did the
South Koreans manage to stabilize the situation.
During the war, South Korean forces committed many massacres in South Korea. In 1950, after the North Korean invasion, around 100,000 suspected communists were executed by the South Koreans.
With the landing near Incheon in mid-September 1950, the UN troops succeeded in ending the North Korean advance. On September 30, South Korean troops crossed the 38th parallel to reunify the Korean Peninsula under their flag. In November, the first sections of the Yalu River bordering China were reached. The Chinese did not want to tolerate a united Korea under US influence and intervened in North Korea with an initially 300,000-strong “volunteer army”. The UN troops were eventually pushed back south of the 38th parallel, where the front froze.
The Armistice was agreed on July 27, 1953, signed by the UN, North Korea and China. Rhee Syng-man, the President of South Korea, refused to sign the treaty. A demilitarized zone was decreed to be set up roughly along the 38th parallel. The demilitarized zone is also the border between the two Korean states. A peace treaty was not signed, although the intention to do so was repeatedly announced.
The aftermath of the Korean War was dramatic. Estimates of the number of Koreans killed vary between one and three million; far more had been expelled. Most of Korea's infrastructure lay in ruins. The psychological consequences were at least as bad. The fear of another invasion affects the politics of both countries.
After the Korean War, despite Western development aid, South Korea hardly made any economic progress. As a country without major mineral resources, South Korea was dependent on imports, and the few industrial plants and the entire infrastructure were destroyed. The fact that progress was initially sluggish was mainly blamed on the mismanagement of President Rhee Syng-man. He secured his re-election in the following elections through arrests of opposition figures and several constitutional amendments. Economic development remained disappointing thereafter, corruption was blatant and Rhee's style of government became increasingly autocratic.
Months of nationwide student demonstrations against Rhee broke out in
1960; they found more and more popular support. Finally, on April 26,
1960, Rhee resigned. When even a parliamentary-based government could
not get the country's problems under control, the military, led by
General Park Chung-hee, seized power on May 16, 1961. Although elections
were permitted in the period that followed, these remained practically
without consequences. The South Koreans were denied essential democratic
rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of the press. A military
dictatorship developed under Park Chung-hee, members of the opposition
(mostly communists) were tortured and murdered.
Meanwhile, South Korea made significant economic advances. A close connection between politics and economy gave rise to large-scale industries. During this time, South Korea was transformed into a modern, export-oriented industrial state. This also improved the standard of living of the South Koreans. The education system was improved and made accessible to broader sections of the population, the so-called Saemaeul Undong (New Village Campaign) improved the situation of the rural population. Park is therefore generally regarded as the architect of the economic boom.
From the 1960s, South Korea pursued a protectionist economic policy. Most imported goods were banned, the financial system was nationalized, five-year plans were passed, government borrowing was very low, and foreign investment was not encouraged. A land reform led to the expropriation of the Japanese large estates without compensation and the land was divided into small parcels. However, farmers are legally obliged to sell their produce at low prices, leaving them in poverty. Due to the Cold War and its geographic location, South Korea received special preferential treatment from the United States and received large amounts of economic aid annually. These family conglomerates (Hyundai, Samsung, LG Group, etc.) benefited from government subsidies, protection from international competition, land ownership, low taxes, and specific standards. The government recognized no minimum wage or weekly vacation, enforced unpaid hours in its favour, and working days were 12 hours long. In addition, trade unions and strikes are prohibited. In the 1980s, a South Korean worker's workweek is the longest in the world.
In 1968 and 1975, North Korean agents attempted to assassinate Park; the second assassination attempt killed his wife. His end came unexpectedly on October 26, 1979, when Park was shot dead by his own intelligence chief, Kim Jae-gyu. Prime Minister Choi Kyu-ha initially became interim president and was elected victorious by an electoral body on December 6, 1979. But on December 12, the military, led by General Chun Doo-hwan, staged another coup against the government.
The year 1980 was marked by great uncertainty. People from all walks of life were demanding real democracy, and Chun promised but delayed democratic reforms, and demonstrations swept the country. Due to the unsettled situation, the military feared an invasion from the north and therefore took particularly tough action. In one of the protest strongholds, in Gwangju, an example was set in May 1980 and the uprising was brutally suppressed. According to a late 1990s investigation into the incident known as the Gwangju Uprising or in South Korea as the May 18 Gwangju Democracy Movement, around 207-2,300 civilians died and several thousand were injured.
Chun continued to suppress the opposition so that there were no major protests for years. Economic development picked up speed again and the quality of life of South Koreans improved significantly.
A bomb attack in northern Rangoon, Myanmar, on October 9, 1983 killed 19 people, including four cabinet members of the Chun government: Kim Jae-ik, Suh Sook-joon, Hahm Pyong-choon and Foreign Minister Lee Bum-suk. Chun escaped the assassination because he arrived late at the scene. After an investigation, North Korea was officially accused of the attack.
From 1986, the demands for democracy became louder again.
Chun facilitated the first peaceful transfer of power since South
Korea's founding by announcing in 1987, under great public pressure,
that he would step down at the end of his term in office in 1988.
Against the resistance of the population, however, he initially wanted
to regulate his successor undemocratically and independently appoint
ex-General Roh Tae-woo as his successor. The June 1987 fight ensued, as
a result of which Roh surprisingly announced that he would have the
constitution changed in favor of genuine democratic reforms. The three
largest parties of the time jointly determined a new constitution. In
November 1987, for example, the president was directly elected by the
people for the first time since 1961, and his term of office was
shortened to five years. The two opposition leaders Kim Young-sam and
Kim Dae-jung were unable to agree on a common candidate for the election
and ran against each other. Because the opposition was thus divided, 37%
of the votes were enough for Roh to win the election.
During Roh's tenure, democracy in South Korea made significant progress and many reforms were passed. In 1988 South Korea hosted the Summer Olympics. South Korea established diplomatic relations with former Eastern Bloc countries. Along with North Korea, the country joined the United Nations on September 17, 1991. After the withdrawal of about 100 American tactical nuclear weapons in September 1991, North and South Korea signed a non-aggression pact on December 13, 1991, 38 years after the Korean War was temporarily ended by the Armistice.
Because his party formed a conservative alliance with Roh's party, Kim Young-sam defeated Kim Dae-jung in the 1992 election. A focus of his politics was the fight against corruption and the clarification of state misconduct. Former presidents Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo were sentenced to death for the 1980 coup and Gwangju massacre. Both were later pardoned.
In November 1997, the Asian crisis hit South Korea. After the country
had shone economically with double-digit growth rates for a long time,
the gross domestic product shrank by 6.7% in 1998 and the national
currency, the won, lost a lot of value. The crisis was overcome with the
help of a loan from the IMF, and as early as 1999 GDP grew again by more
In the elections on December 18, 1997, Kim Dae-jung was able to assert himself. The main point of his policy was reconciliation with North Korea, the so-called Sunshine Policy. Two railroad lines disrupted during the Korean War were restored; the first test drive took place on May 17, 2007. In addition, a joint industrial zone was established in Kaesŏng. The culmination of this policy was a meeting between Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang in June 2000. Kim Dae-jung was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for this policy later that year.
In 2002, South Korea hosted the 17th World Cup with Japan. It was the first time two countries had co-hosted this sporting event, made all the more significant given the strained relations with Japan. The success of South Korea national soccer team was one of the big surprises of this tournament, they finished fourth. The event was generally considered a great success and spread a positive image of the hospitable Korean people around the world.
Kim Dae-jung's party colleague Roh Moo-hyun emerged victorious from the presidential election on December 19, 2002. He tried to continue Kim Dae-jung's policy towards North Korea. Roh also traveled to North Korea shortly before the end of his term of office from October 2 to 4, 2007. He signed a declaration of intent with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to begin negotiations on a peace treaty. This is intended to replace the Armistice Agreement ending the Korean War of 1953. In addition, there should be more summit meetings.
However, under the conservative President Lee Myung-bak, who was in
office from 2007, relations between the two countries cooled noticeably.
Lee had already announced during the election campaign that he would
take a tougher foreign policy stance towards Pyongyang. This development
continued with the takeover of the also conservative Park Geun-hye in
2012. In the spring of 2013, relations between the two countries hit a
new low with the North Korean crisis of 2013.
The movement to resign President Park Geun-hye won her impeachment over corruption in 2017. She was succeeded by Moon Jae-in as President in May 2017. From the outset, he showed a willingness to engage in dialogue with North Korean ruler Kim Jong-un, who announced in December 2017 after several missile tests and a nuclear bomb test that North Korea had completed its development into a nuclear power. After the conflict had escalated dangerously, on January 1, 2018, Kim Jong-un surprisingly accepted South Korea's offer to let his country participate in the February 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. Both countries agreed to continue high-level meetings to revitalize exchanges in various fields. Media speculated that Kim Jong-un hoped for a lifting of UN sanctions or weakening relations between South Korea and the US under President Donald Trump. Relations between the two countries then remained somewhat more relaxed for a few years.
During the 2010s, contemporary Korean popular culture surged in popularity around the world. This phenomenon is called the Korean Wave and has existed in South, Southeast and East Asia since the 1990s.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, South Korea was the second most severely affected country after China, but quickly got the situation under control, among other things through severe restrictions on public life and many tests, but also through the publication of names and addresses, which is controversial under data protection law from infected. The success of Moon Jae-in's social-liberal Deobureo-minju Party (DMP) in containing the pandemic was confirmed by the population in the 2020 general election. In 2020 and 2021, South Korea had only extremely low incidence figures in a global comparison. In 2022, the government relaxed the measures significantly and let the Omicron variant go through.
See also: COVID-19 Pandemic in South Korea
In 2022, relations with North Korea deteriorated significantly after a series of missile tests by North Korea. South Korea and the US subsequently conducted the largest military maneuvers in the region since 2017 starting August 22, 2022. North Korea then codified its nuclear weapons policy into law. In 2022, North Korea fired more missiles in a year than ever before.
On July 17, 1948, South Korea's first constitution was adopted. In
the course of the political upheavals, it was revised a total of nine
times, most recently on October 29, 1987. This revision was an important
step towards the democratization of the country. Among other things, the
powers of the President were limited and the powers of the legislature
expanded. Human rights were then better protected than before. The
current constitution consists of a preamble, 130 articles and six
additional provisions. It is divided into ten chapters: "General
Provisions", "Citizens' Rights and Duties", "National Assembly",
"Executive", "Judiciary", "Constitutional Court", "Elections", "Local
Government", "Economy" and "Constitutional Amendments". “. It secures
the sovereignty of the people, decrees the separation of powers,
announces goals such as peaceful and democratic reunification with North
Korea, calls for the pursuit of peace and for cooperation at the
international level as well as the obligation of the state to provide
for the common good. A constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds
majority in the National Assembly and must also be confirmed by a simple
majority in a popular vote.
The head of state of the Republic of Korea is the President, directly elected by the people. The President is elected for five-year terms and cannot be re-elected. He is the highest representative of the Republic and represents it internally and externally. He receives foreign diplomats, awards medals and can grant pardons. He is also the head of the administration and in this capacity enforces laws passed by the National Assembly. He is commander of the army and can declare war.
The Prime Minister is appointed by the President. He runs the government. The cabinet consists of at least 15 and at most 30 members, it is also put together by the president. Both prime ministers and cabinet members must be confirmed by Parliament. The South Korean parliament has only one chamber and is called the Gukhoe (National Assembly). The parliamentarians are elected for four years. The parliament consists of 299 MPs, elected by a trench system: 243 are directly elected by victory in their constituencies, the remaining 56 seats are distributed among those parties that obtained at least 3% of the votes. The last general election took place on April 15, 2020. The ruling, social-liberal Minju party won 129 out of 300 seats, while the opposition, conservative Gungminui party only got 103 seats.
Another important body in South Korea's system is the Constitutional Court. It oversees the work of the government and decides on no-confidence motions and the like. The Court consists of nine Chief Justices: the President personally appoints three Justices to the Supreme Court; Parliament appoints another three judges, but these must be confirmed by the President; The last three judges are appointed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. This cooperative system ensures that the South Korean Constitutional Court is relatively strong and independent, as well as highly accessible (anyone can file a constitutional complaint) and centralized oversight (rather than decentralized as in the case of supreme courts).